Regional park plans hit another speed bump

The vast area behind San Benito High School is the proposed site for a regional park. Photo by Robert Eliason.

San Benito County’s plan for a regional park hit a snag Monday when the Hollister City Council reached a consensus to leave Nash Road open for the foreseeable future for emergency services. Proponents of a regional park were hoping the council would move forward with the project after a presentation from San Benito County Resource Agency Management Director Benny Young during the March 15 council meeting. 

However, after lengthy input from the public and comments from the Hollister police and fire departments, the council reached a consensus that Nash Road could not be closed permanently because it serves as a key access road and thoroughfare for emergency services.

Currently, Nash Road is closed on weekdays from 7am to 7pm during the school year. Since 2016, the city of Hollister, San Benito County and the San Benito High School District (SBHSD) have tried to come to an agreement to close the part of Nash Road that intersects with the campus, install safety improvements on River Parkway and plan for the development of the regional park. 

Everything hung on the three entities coming to a resolution on Nash Road, which the high school wants closed permanently. The SBHSD was asking the county and city to vacate each of the small portions they own on Nash Road so the district can close it permanently. In exchange, the district would gift the county the land behind the high school. That property accounts for 47.6 acres and would adjoin the 23.4 acres of land the county already owns to make up the proposed site of the regional park. 

In anticipation of acquiring the property, the county built River Parkway, which is attached to the regional park site and provides an alternative route for motorists around the high school. The city had been asking to put in safety improvements on River Parkway in the form of a three-way stop, speed controls and addressing safety issues, said District 2 Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki, who acknowledged the sensitive nature of the Nash Road discussions. 

“Overall, it’s a tough issue because a lot of people in that neighborhood (between West and Monterey Streets) are used to using Nash Road as a thoroughfare,” Kosmicki said. “There are also concerns of additional traffic in certain areas being caused by the River Parkway. I want the public to know we’re cognizant of the concerns of the residents about traffic in that area. Our goal is not only to mitigate the traffic, but to put in a park that will be first class and a great asset for the entire community.”

Time is literally of the essence for the county to acquire the property behind the high school so it can strengthen its application for a $3-million state park grant via Proposition 68. That’s why Young and Resource Agency Management Assistant Director Mike Chambless were counting on a Nash Road resolution being reached soon. 

“We think we have a very good chance being eligible for this grant,” Young said. 

Said Chambless: “As soon as we have possession of that land, we can proceed with the public outreach component and start nailing down phases of the regional park and design of what the community wishes to experience.”

For many, the regional park has been a long time coming. The county created a new Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan in 2010, putting in a provision for a river parkway and regional park. Valerie Egland, the president of the REACH San Benito Parks Foundation—an organization that is committed to raising funds and awareness of the health and economic benefits of parks—along with board members Anita Kane and Robin Pollard see tremendous value in a regional park. They also know a project of this magnitude takes a while to progress. 

All three provided comments during the March 15 council meeting, expressing dismay that plans for a regional park would be delayed once again. 

“I’m heartbroken,” Pollard said. “I can’t believe this opportunity to improve our River Parkway could slip away over the closing of Nash Road. Let’s move forward. This park is so valuable to the community.”

The regional park would include sports facilities along with several other elements which will be decided upon after the county does a new public outreach with the community. The adjoining River Parkway will consist of a 20-mile corridor of the San Benito River and Tres Pinos Creek and provide multi-use (walking, bicycling and equestrian) trails. Egland sees glimpses of the River Parkway and can’t wait until everything is completed. 

“The work that has been put in is (rudimentary), but you have very serviceable pathways for pedestrian and bicycle use,” she said. “It’s being used everyday and provides so much for the health and wellness of the community.”